Hatchery chickens vs. Breeder Stock

(Photo courtesy Tinia Creamer, Lucas Farm)

When I post ads on Craigslist, eBay or one of the other sites where I advertise available chickens, I always state "No Hatchery Stock".

Sometimes, I have people query why that matters, or why the prices of my birds or eggs are so much higher than those at, say, McMurray hatchery, Cackle, or Ideal.

Lucas Farm posted the picture at the top on their Facebook page this week a perfect example of why I feel that the hatchery / breeder distinction is such an important one.

I currently don't keep wyandottes (but they're on my wish list!) but the disparity between them is equally as marked as in my two main breeds, the Speckled Sussex and the Orpington.

In any breed, it is as important to get the type (body shape) right as it is to get the feather coloration and markings right.

You'll find that hatchery birds are often significantly smaller than breeder stock, and slimmer of build. As far as feathering goes, you'll see more blurring of the precise marking, more white in the Speckled Sussex, less lacing in the blue Orpingtons. The feathering on the birds will probably be tighter and less fluffy on the hatchery birds. One of the joys of a 'real' Orpington is the way the loose 'bloomer' of feathers around their legs and lower body blows in the wind; in the hatchery birds, these feathers grow much closer to the body.

The reason for this is simple: hatcheries produce birds on a huge scale, with little to no culling for quality. They sell birds on a per item basis, for profit, as a business.

Breeders, however, will probably never make a profit on their birds. They are in it for the love of the stock, for the enjoyment of showing, for the pleasure that sharing their birds brings them, for the satisfaction they derive from knowing that they are preserving quality, heritage birds for the next generation. Often, a farm name or a 'line' goes along with these birds and, in chicken land, as with most other non-commercial livestock production, reputation is everything.

It's kind of like shopping on Etsy, rather than Walmart. When you buy from a private breeder, you're getting something 'hand made'. You're also putting money in the pocket of a private individual, as opposed to a corporation.

At least, that's how I see it.